Children love sugar. They crave it and can eat in huge quantities! They will choose sugar over almost anything, so as parents we need to minimize sugary options.
Simple sugars are the main cause of oral health problems. Sugars feed the harmful bacteria in the mouth and causes tooth decay, periodontal disease, and even bad breath.
Our body’s immune system can handle harmful bacteria growth without much issue unless sugar is consumed too frequently or in great quantities. So that is what I look for when I evaluate a child’s risk for dental problems – the frequency and quantity of sugar consumed.
I think it’s best to start with drinks. It’s really easy to consume hundreds of calories of sugar in minutes by drinking sugary drinks.
When I was growing up, juices were considered by most a healthy option. I think now, most people agree juice has little to no health advantages. There is a ton of sugar and none of the fiber from the actual fruit. You can also drink it really fast so that you drink too much. Or even worse, you can drink it slowly so that you are supplying a constant stream of nutrition to the harmful bacteria in the mouth.
There is a condition called baby bottle caries where an infant is put to bed with a bottle of juice or milk and over a brief period of time all the front teeth are completely rotten.
Soda is even worse! It has all the sugar of juice plus it is acidic so it demineralizes the enamel at the same time that the teeth are about to be attacked by sugar loving bacteria. I won’t even mention energy drinks. (Just don’t!)
As you can tell, I am not a fan of juice or soda. I don’t allow my child to drink either at home. If we, as parents do one thing for our children’s oral and general health, it should be to get them accustomed to drinking water. They will hate it at first but they will thank you later.
Milk is good from time to time. It has a lot of good things in it. But it also has lactose which breaks down into glucose, a simple sugar. So it is good but water is better.
Fruits are great. They are sweet and delicious. They have a lot of vitamins and fiber. So that’s great. But watch out for dried fruits like raisins! Raisins have concentrated sugar and are very sticky. They stick to the grooves of the teeth and keep the sugar on the teeth for hours! So always brush after eating dried fruit!
Starchy foods cause big problems. Foods like white rice, potatoes, white bread, and pastas also easily break down into simple sugars and often times get stuck between teeth. We often don’t think of them to be as harmful as other sugary food but they can be.
Candy is bad for us in many ways but it tastes so good! Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol that prevents cavities. It actually prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. It can be found in a lot of gums and mints. If you use it 3-5 times a day you can see a decrease in cavities. I have xylitol lollipops in my office. While they do prevent cavities, they still have a lot of calories so don’t go crazy!
Oral hygiene helps when a child indulges. So brush, floss, and mouth wash after consuming sugar!